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Local physicians form group to advocate on COVID-19

Drive-thru coronavirus testing at Cambridge Health Alliance at the Somerville Hospital in Somerville on March 25.
Drive-thru coronavirus testing at Cambridge Health Alliance at the Somerville Hospital in Somerville on March 25.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A group of Massachusetts physicians who are alarmed about the spread of COVID-19 have formed an advocacy group to push for safety measures for patients and providers.

The group’s first action, even before it had a name, was collecting the signatures of more than 1,000 doctors on a letter to Governor Charlie Baker calling on him to provide national leadership and forceful action.

The letter asked Baker to join with other governors in organizing a nationwide two-week pause in all nonessential activities and in pressuring President Trump to broadly mandate more manufacturing of personal protective equipment. It also asks Baker to increase testing capacity and include infectious disease and public health experts in the Command Center recently established to deal with the crisis.

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Health care workers, the letter said, are being asked “to choose between their own lives and those of their patients. ... Some physicians report having no access to protective gear.”

It continued, “We urge you to mobilize leaders of corporations and community organizations in a war-like fashion across the Commonwealth to halt community transmission and to produce, purchase and provide PPE [personal protective equipment].”

Dr. Karen Leitner, one of the group’s founders, said that she had not received a response from Baker to the letter, which was sent Wednesday.

In response to the Globe’s request for comment, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services provided a statement outlining the actions Baker has taken on COVID-19 and describing the state’s work with various agencies to plan for a surge in hospitalizations.

Leitner said that the group originated with three physicians in Newton and Wellesley and quickly expanded via social media. Over the weekend about 20 core members adopted a name — the COVID-19 Action Coalition — and identified four “action points”:

♦ To promote social distancing that prohibits any group gathering, not just groups of 10 or more, and that continues until data show that the virus is contained.

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♦ To push for full deployment of the Defense Production Act to force more production of protection equipment nationwide.

♦ To detect illness and protect every infected person, with broader testing and a safe place for infected people to recuperate without endangering others.

♦ To start planning to address the financial hardships that the preventive measures will cause.

“Our health care system is really at risk,” Leitner said.

Coalition members, many new to activism, have divided into work groups to push their agenda.

Uncertainty about the supply of protective equipment is leading to high stress and trauma among physicians, said Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, a coalition member and a psychiatrist in Roslindale who treats many physicians.

“Our health care workers are our most valuable assets. They are the people that are risking their lives,” Christian-Brathwaite said. "It’s so important to support and protect them.”

“We’re the ones taking care of people and doing our darndest to save lives,” said Dr. Cheri Weaver, a coalition member who works in the emergency department of a community hospital. “We’re the prime people the public needs to be listening to.”


Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer